New program aimed to end homelessness in teens

More than 250 kids in public schools in La Crosse County are homeless

There are more than 250 kids in public schools in La Crosse County that are homeless, according to the latest report from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

About 175 of those students are in the La Crosse School District.

About six months ago, the La Crosse Community Foundation heard just how many homeless kids there are in the community and decided to do something about it.

Since then, there have been several meetings with community organizations serving homeless youth.

The ending result began Friday with what’s being called the Host Home Program.

The Family & Children’s Center in La Crosse has over 100 years of experience in helping kids, so it’s a fitting choice that the organization is receiving a grant to begin a new program aimed at helping homeless youth.

“The Host Home Program will be staffed by a social worker, and that position is essentially funded by this grant of just over $70,000,” said Sheila Garrity, executive director of the La Crosse Community Foundation.

The Host Home Program will be targeting homeless kids between the ages 16 and 20, an age group known to the La Crosse School District as the “Silent Youth.”

“Perhaps their parents are incarcerated or had to be hospitalized, and they do not want to reach out for help on their own, because they’re afraid they’ll get in trouble, they’ll get their parent in trouble, they will be sent away or into foster care,” La Crosse School District Director of Pupil Services and Learning Support Regina Seigel said.

It’s also a group, the school district believes, it hasn’t been able to help much in the past.

“There haven’t been a lot of services that we can offer to our high school-aged youth so there hasn’t been a big reason for students to come forward,” Seigel said.

The Family and Children’s Center will soon have a social worker on staff dedicated to matching up a homeless teen with a host home.

“What they’re expected to do is to provide a safe environment for the youth to stay in their homes, so they’ve got an extra bed or place for them to stay and then to provide them with food,” said Vanessa Southworth, director of programs for Wisconsin at the Family & Children Center.

And once that match is made, the student can stop worrying about being homeless and, instead, worry about homework.

“When we can fulfill that need a child then can come to school and concentrate on learning, not where they’re sleeping the next night,” Seigel said.

The Family and Children’s Center hopes to have the social worker position filled by the end of the summer so the program can begin at the beginning of the school year. It hopes to have at least 10 host homes by the end of the first year and hopes to eventually expand to other age groups once the program has seen success.

There is a difference between the Host Home program and foster care, Host Home families are not being paid for offering up their extra bedroom.

If you would like to be a Host Home, you can call the Family and Children’s Center 608-785-0001 or visit their website